Preparation for a fly fishing trip in saltwater or anywhere else takes a
certain amount of planning. I see people come fishing with me and they've
got a box of every fly known to mankind. This is worse with guys who tie
their own flies. Why do people always want to use the prettiest flies?
Because they do. Granted, you need to consider a number of things like
weather conditions including wind, water temperature, water clarity, flats habitat
in terms of grass or mud bottom (do you need a weed guard), etc. I figure it's
better to spend more time fishing than sitting and pondering over which of 25
different flies to use. There are really only three major bait groups to worry about:
mullet, shrimp or crabs, and sand worms or eels. A good friend and fellow guide,
Capt. Kent Gibbens, said, "If you believe in the afterlife, don't come back as a shrimp."
Fishing the saltwater flats you'll find there are probably 4 flies that will
work for almost any situation. Actually a fifth would be a crab imitation like
Bay's dime/nickel Crab, Lou's Blue Crab, Del's Merkin Crab, and others.
These can be carried in your pocket, on your hat, and hopefully if you have
one rod, one will be already tied on the tippet. Always have your gear ready
at launch time, so that you aren't wasting time fiddling with running your line up
through the guides, out on the water. Try to be ready so that when you spot
your quarry you will be set to cast.
I'm sure other guides can recommend their favorite flies. These are some of mine:
The use and selection is important. I use water color as the single most important gauge
for my selection.
- Half/Half Clouser white, white/chartreuse - clear water
- Deceiver white, white/chartreuse - clear water
- Muddler Minnow red-head, brown-head, white-head - clear or dark
- Catches Reds orange, green - dark water
Half/Half: This is a Clouser/deceiver combination with a weighted dumbell eye which is heavily
epoxy'd, and tied to ride inverted. You will need a weed guard on this. In the grass flats,
it is essential to move the fly through the grass with out getting it snagged. So, who
get's the credit for the half and half? Probably, Lefty Kreh. But, maybe this is a shared
thing between Lefty and Bob Clouser (e.g., Clouser Minnow).
The Half/Half is the all time winner for the gin clear water in the flats. On bright
sunny day and super clear water I like an all white fly or white and tan back. There is
an old school of thought that the fly should match the surroundings - sometimes that
works and sometimes not. Remember that flats fish feed all the time. So when they
are hungry, they will be looking for the imitation of their favorite food or an easy snack.
The Half/Half works well. You need a minimum 9wt rod to throw a half/half. This
is a heavy, sinking fly and resembles a shrimp on the bottom. The retrieve is a slow,
slow, fast action. Think of a shrimp swimming in short, darting motions.
Deceiver: Lefty's Deceiver
or imitations, in all white is my all time favorite fly. It is by far the best fly made to
look like a silversides, herring, pilchard, or small mullet.
You could stretch this a bit to include pin and pig fish. The best one I've seen tied uses
white marabou. It is an awesome fly that fools a lot of game fish. The deceiver is an
upper water column fly and swims nicely on a slow, slow, consistent retrieve, varied
at times to resemble small bait fishing swimming along the edge.
Muddler Minnow: This is a classic fly. If I had only one fly in box, this would
be it. Don Gapen made one for Joe Brooks and is credited with the first
Muddler designed to resemble
a Cocatouse minnow (Sculpin species). The muddler is tied
in a number of ways and is the most universally copied fly in the World.
It resembles so many things that fish feed on and is good in any type of water in any
situation. Brown trout, rainbows, brookies, cutthroats all go for it. Landlocked salmon
like it. European sea trout love it. It is a fly that can be tied large for saltwater like the
woolhead mullet, or smaller like the Borski Fur Shrimp or Borski Slider, or a Redfish
Ultra Hair Bug, or as a dry fly. This is a fly that is well known and used throughout Europe,
the British Isles and the warm water flats of the east and west coasts.
I have had success with this fly and have caught virtually every kind of inshore game fish
on it including redfish, snook, tarpon, trout, jacks (they love this fly), small hammerhead
sharks, sail catfish, blue fish, spanish mackerel and mangrove snapper. People in the flats
swear that the Borski Slider is the best imitation of a shrimp and others will swear that the
white or redhead muddler is great for everything else. Tammy DiGristine ties a very
successful version of the Inverted Muddler.
I use an all black muddler fishing for jacks, blues, and reds at night. There are more successful
hook-ups using Muddlers than any other fly used. Most saltwater Muddlers are tied on 1/0 to
3/0 Mustad 34007 hooks.
Catches Reds: Forgive me for tooting my own horn. This is my Red Assassin fly.
When I designed it, I asked a guide friend what we should call it. He said, "catches reds."
Anyway we had this little contest. He used a light tackle rod with shrimp-tipped white
bucktail jigs and I used the fly rod with this new fly. Guess who caught the bigger and more
fish. It was my lucky day. After I caught a few reds with it tied like an orange needle fish
(favorite of local Barracuda), I changed to a variation that uses black buck tail. That was a
success too. The reason is that depending on the type of retrieve: (a) slow, pause, slow, fast,
pause; or (b) sink, fast, sink, slow, sink, fast, sink. The fly is supposed to imitate a jerk worm.
Light tackle anglers use jerk worms and they are very effective in inshore saltwater estuaries.
Typical jerk worms are the Bass Assassin, Charlie's Wiggler, and Crazy Charlie Worms.
The action is similar to what I described with a slow, but constant retrieve with jerking motions
resembling a wounded baitfish or a baitfish swimming. I've seen a number of other types of
flies like this including Capt. Denny's Jerk Worm Fly. But they've never worked for me
because the flies never got down. Capt. Denny ties his with dear hair and it sits up in the
water column. It is a big bulky fly and it think it can scare the fish. I know that sounds silly.
But some big flies can really spook fish. The fly has to look like what they eat in a normal
size range or they won't attack the fly.
The "catches reds" or "Red Assassin" works best in dark water and back country fishing.
I find this fly very good in brackish creeks like Hunter's Creek or Tomoka River. The water
is dark primarily because there are rotting vegetation on the bottom made up of old logs,
leaves and other stuff. The backwaters hold an enormous amount of bait and game fish,
including bull sharks. There are also mudfish (bowfin) and long-nose gar. These are
fish that are found on the edges of where fresh and salt water meet. In the bait mix are
also found sand eels, black eels, and sea worms. I've also caught black drum on this
fly and have started finding results of this fly tied in green and black super hair. I'm sure
there are many other applications for the Red Assassin. Make up your own and try
it out. I think you'll be surprised by the results.
I haven't spent anytime talking about the crab fly imitations. They are pretty standard.
I've used Bay's Crab, Del Merkin, and
Lou's Blue Crab. They all work well for reds and the reds have to be eating crabs for
this to work. It's best thrown into a school of fish, or sight fishing it must be cast accurately
to the red your are stalking. Down in the keys this is an effective fly for Permit.
That's all they eat: crabs, crabs, and crabs.
'Till next time, keep your fly selection simple. Take a half & half, a white deceiver,
muddler minnow (combination of your choice), and make yourself an orange Red
Assassin. I guarantee you'll spend more time catching fish and having a great time.
Next time: Reading the Flats!
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.