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.

Saltwater Fly Fishing For Inshore Game Fish:
Part Nine: The Retrieve

By Capt. Douglas Sinclair

Congratulation Doug - You Made It!

"She leaks a little." The woman on a fishing party told me. "It scares me when I hear that pump come on." I told her, "Lady, it scares me to death when I don't hear it come on!" --Anonymous Chesapeake Bay charter captain.

So it's kind of like that for saltwater fly-fishing. Maybe you can cast ninety-plus feet and into the backing. If you can't retrieve you might as well go home. Retrieving is everything in fly-fishing. It is more important than the cast, but the cast is also important. Let's assume you've picked out your target, made your cast, and are now ready to strip (retrieve the line) and hook up a fish. How you start the retrieve is the key to success. Remember we want to present the fly as quietly as possible.

After the fly lands on the water, wait a couple of seconds or longer. It doesn't matter if you are using a sinking or floating pattern. Allow the fly to settle on the water before you start the first strip. A fly's movement can be more significant than the pattern itself. You can make a fly come alive, look injured, or dead depending on the rate of retrieve. Think about what bait the fly is imitating and adjust your retrieve for it.

Baitfish move quickly, pause, shoot forward, then spin around in a darting motion. Their movements are erratic. For most baitfish patterns use a stop and go action, pausing between strips and allowing the fly to sink, or in the case of a top-water fly allowing it to settle again.

Try strips of different lengths. My favorite strip method is doing constant but short three-inch strips. I achieve this by putting the butt of the rod into my gut and stripping the line in a downward motion. If a large predator hits the fly I can set the hook by moving the rod to the side. This stripping action works well for bottom feeding fish like Redfish, Black Drum, Flounder or Spotted Sea Trout. The action emulates a short hopping motion, similar to a shrimp moving along the bottom. I would work a crab fly in the same way. Crabs move at angle off the bottom and then settle back to the bottom. Pull the crab fly off the bottom and then let it settle back down again.

A slow retrieve usually works well at night, in fast water, in colder water, and in discolored water. Use a faster retrieve in daylight or in slow moving water or clear water. If you are in a situation were baitfish are being pushed hard, usually reminiscent of a school of Jacks, the retrieve needs to be fast and furious. Again, with the butt of the rod against your stomach or under your arm, you can double strip with both hands. Jacks like fast moving bait.

So another way to think about the retrieve is to understand what fish are eating. Those fish that eat shrimp, crabs and sea worms are after bait that waits for them. You need to get their attention and a short stripping action will do this nicely. Faster stripping action, strips of up to 24-inches at a time, would be good for predators like blues, mackerel, kings, wahoo, cobia, albacore, jacks, sharks, and other game fish higher on the food chain. You'll hear guides saying, "strip, strip, strip, strip, faster, strip, strip."

Let's take a look at the Florida fish groups and discuss the stripping action for each group. Here's another addition for your library. Pick up a copy of Vic Dunaway's book on Sport Fish of Florida.

Spotted Seatrout Croakers. These include Spotted Seatrout, Weakfish, Sand Seatrout, Silver Seatrout, Red Drum, Black Drum, Atlantic Croaker, Silver Perch, Spot, Northern Kingfish, Southern Kingfish, and Gulf Kingfish. For you spinning tackle guys we recommend still fishing because the bait these fish consume will be walking, crawling or scurrying away on the bottom. You've guessed it; this is a short, slow retrieve. The fly has to get to the bottom or at least near the bottom. An ideal situation is to sight cast the fish and let the fly sink. Yes. "Let it sink." For Spotted Seatrout the best approach is to cast to a white hole (a spot bare of sea grass) and bring the fly to the edge and let it drop. Move the fly the tiniest bit (3-inch strip) and let it settle back down. Repeat this and let me know how big that trout weighed. The best flies for Spotted Seatrout include the White Snookzit, Kelly spoonfly (salmon color), Silver Dupre Spoonfly, Salty Bugger and any shrimp or pigfish imitation.

Common Snook Snook. These are Common Snook, Fat Snook, Swordspine Snook, and Tarpon Snook. Snook love baitfish such as pilchards or mullet. They will also take shrimp and crabs. They are best fishing in the late afternoon around bridges, docks and mangrove lines where they can ambush small fish. Top water flies work best such as Ultra Hair Bugs, Inverted Mullet, Wool Head Mullet, Snookzit, and other top-water pushing flies. The stripping action is fast, slow, fast, and slow. Get the fly moving so it makes a pulsating motion in the water. Popper flies also work well and these can be stripped using a fast, twitch, slow, twitch that makes a top water darting motion.

Southern Flounder Flounders. This group includes the Southern Flounder, Gulf Flounder, and Summer Flounder. Flounder eat mostly small fish, and bigger fish, and occasionally shrimp. The most successful lure is one with a white grub-tail. So, use a fly that has a thin grub-tail-type pattern. Use all white or white/orange or orange (Red Assassin in white or orange). This is a slow retrieve, since flounder are predominately bottom feeders.

Great Barracuda Rod Busters. This group comprises the Great Barracuda (GO CUDAS), Bluefish, Bonefish, Cobia, Dolphin, Tarpon, Tripletail, and Ladyfish. These offshore and inshore predators are aggressive and will eat almost anything that comes their way. This includes all baitfish, squid, shrimp, ballyhoo (mostly for barracuda), mullet, small other species of game fish, pinfish, cigar minnows, grunts (pig fish), etc. There are too many to name. Be sure to have at minimum 40# wire shock leader and a lot of backing. These guys will strip off line faster than an electric drill. The retrieve is fast and constant. Be prepared for one hell of a fight, as all these fish will tail walk. A note of caution, be very careful boating these fish, they have sharp teeth and strong bodies that can damage a boat and you!

Jack Crevalle Jacks. Jacks include the notorious Cravalle, Blue Runner, Bar Jack, Yellow Jack, Horse-eye Jack, Rainbow Runner, Leatherjack, Pilotfish, Greater Amberjack, Lesser Amberjack, Almaco Jack, Banded Rudderfish, Florida Pompano, Permit, Palometa, African Pompano and Lookdown. Jacks will eat almost anything, even my friend's old sock once. In a schooled frenzy chasing down baitfish the characteristic is recognizable. You'll see bait fish airborne above the water trying to escape the powerful jaws of the jack. Jacks are very, very fast and powerful. They give the fly rodder something to remember. The retrieve is fast with the exception of the Permit. Permit eat crabs. They are basically bottom feeders. Also, Pompano like to bottom feed as well. They will eat sand fleas (sand crabs), fiddler crabs, clams and sea worms. Bonefish flies and large crab imitations work well. Pompano will out race and out pull a jack Cravelle of the same size. Again adjust your strip for the game fish of choice and have enough backing.

Red Snapper Snappers. Snappers are a large group consisting of the Mangrove or Mango, Red, Mutton, Lane, Cubera, Dog, Schoolmaster, Yellowtail, Vermillion, Mahogany, Blackfin, Silk and Queen Snapper. Snappers eat pilchards, cigar minnows and squid. They have been known to take a liking to pink squid flies with buck tail. Snappers must be coaxed up and then cast and retrieve is fast, pause, fast, and pause. The exception is the mangrove or gray snapper that can be caught in the inshore estuaries. The retrieve is fast, slow, fast, and slow.

Gag Groupers. All coasts of Florida are home to the groupers. They are standard table fare at most restaurants and in little danger of extinction. Most groupers are bottom dwellers and live in very deep water. However, some of the smaller groupers make it up the Inter-Coastal Waterway and the inshore rivers along both coasts. The most common, locally, caught on fly rod are the Gag, Black Grouper, and Black Sea Bass. The Sand Perch Grouper is often lunch for the other groupers as well as pilchards, anchovy, herring, pinfish, mullet, grunts and cut baits. Incidentally, we are talking about rod weights in the 12-wt to 15-wt class. Groupers are big, strong and powerful and can weigh in excess of 50 pounds. One hundred pounds is not uncommon. Once chummed to the surface, grouper will hit big pilchard flies 3/0 up to 7/0. The retrieve is medium to fast.

Sheepshead The Porgies. Porgies include Sheepshead, Pinfish, Spottail Pinfish, Silver Porgy, Sea Bream, Grass Porgy, Whitebone Porgy, Jolthead Porgy, Saucereye Porgy, and Red Porgy. Without exception they all love shrimp and shellfish including sand and fiddler crabs and an occasional decorator crab (see picture). I recommend round hook-tied flies. Setting the hook on Sheepshead is difficult. A round hook will set itself. The retrieve is moderate to fast. Pinfish and the other porgies love shrimp. You'll notice these fish are also bait for most of the predators discussed here. A Borski Slider or Bay Shrimp in sizes #2 to 1/0 work well. Retrieve is slow to medium.

The Grunts. Grunts include the Pigfish, White Grunt, Margate, Bluestriped Grunt, French Grunt, Tomtate, Black Margate, and Porkfish. The only one of any consequence is the Pigfish since this is a staple of spotted seatrout. Grunts are scavengers and will eat anything lying on the bottom. I don't know anyone who fly-fishes for Grunts.

Swordfish Billfish. This is the big water group of Swordfish, Blue Marlin, White Marlin, Hatchet Marlin, Longbill Spearfish and Sailfish. These big boys will eat dolphin, mackeral, mullet, ballyhoo, bonito and any other large baitfish. These monsters will weigh up to 500 pounds and take special fly-fishing rigging to land. This is an activity for only expert fly anglers. The retrieve is fast and the fight exhausting.

Spanish Mackerel Mackerels and Tunas. The grouping includes mostly offshore species of Wahoo, King and Spanish Mackerel, Cero, Frigate Mackerel, all the Tunas, Bonito, and Albacore. Of this group only the Spanish Mackerel is a coastal fish that sometimes roams offshore. Spanish M's are fast runners, tail walkers, blasting out of the water, doing flips, and just doing anything to lose a hook. They are great fighters on a fly rod. The best flies will have a lot of flash and imitate small silvery baitfish. The retrieve is fast.

Bull Shark Sharks. This group includes all the Hammerheads, Bonnethead, Reef, Tiger, Blacktip, Sandbar, Dusky, Bull, Whitetip, Silky, Spinner, Lemon, Sharpnose, Nurse, Thresher, Shortfin Mako, and White Shark. Most bays and estuaries are home to many species of sharks including hammerheads, dusky, lemon, nurse, and bull sharks. The inshore areas are nurseries for juvenile sharks in the four to six foot range. They are voracious feeders and do not like to be hooked. Their favorite food is the Southern Sting Ray and Clearnose Skate. Lemon sharks especially love rays. You can see them chasing rays down in the surf in very shallow water. All of which are common throughout Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River. They will take almost any type of fly if it lands within their sight or in a feeding area. The Bull Shark lives in the coastal range and has been caught well inland in freshwater rivers and creeks. The retrieve is fast, slow, sink, fast, slow, sink. The best way to land a shark is to sight fish for them. Use a shark fly in orange bucktail on a 3/0 hook.

The best retrieve is the one that works for you. Just remember to let that fly settle before you start stripping. Now go out and fool some fish. ~ 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.

Special credit for the fish illustrations from: Sport Fish of Florida published by the Florida Sportsman.

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