Each year a few more of you spend some time casting flies in the ocean. I believe one of the reasons for this growth is being able to fish in wild unspoilt places for truly wild fish.
When asked why they were fishing the ocean, several anglers I have met on the beach have said "I like the wilderness experience". "Anything can grab hold of my fly" another angler told me. "If I catch a fish on my local trout water another angler will start casting where I caught the fish, you don't get this on the beaches".
On a summer fishing trip to Sussex I met up with Charlie Pearson who was casting a fly in the ocean near Beachy Head. I asked Charlie why he was fly fishing when the others chose to use bait. "Its more fun, I've caught 6 mackerel they've caught nothing - enough said". Hampshire angler Brian Barnard fishing a local sandy beach told me "Most days when I look along the beach I don't see another person, not even a dog walker. It's a great pity there are not more fish".
Two other reasons for the growth of saltwater fly fishing in the UK are the number of articles published both in the UK angling press and in the two major Saltwater Fly fishing magazines published in the United States: 'Fly Fishing in Saltwater' and 'Saltwater Fly Fishing', both are available in the UK. Then we have the popularity of holidays abroad to the warmer climes through the availability of cheap flights - and Florida's Disney World. Why Disney World? It's situated in Florida which has a wealth of fly fishing available with lots of fly fishing guides willing to take you out for a day on the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon with all the tackle supplied. They will even give you casting tuition. We anglers can only spend so much time on the beach doing nothing or walking around Disney before we get bored and need to get out fishing.
It happens so easily. There you are sitting in an Orlando bar drinking another ice cold beer, then as is usual we strike up a conversation with the locals. Eventually the subject gets around to fishing. Don't all Americans fish? Two or three beers later we pick up the telephone and book a guide. After a super days fly fishing, during which we catch a fish or two that pulls the string and bends the stick, we then realise it's a super way of fishing. On our return home we find its quite easy to get out and cast a fly for a saltwater fish in the ocean.
We all live within driving distance of some coastal fly fishing where the quarry won't be the redfish, seatrout, bonefish, jacks or barracuda of the warmer climes, but pollock, bass, coalfish, mullet, mackerel and flounders - all cold-water ocean fish. In fact we can probably catch all the saltwater species that swim around our shores if we try hard enough and pool our knowledge. As more of us try fishing in the salt we learn a bit more of this big jigsaw puzzle. In the United States the sport of fly fishing in the ocean didn't take off overnight. It happened over a period of many years. They are still learning new ways of presenting the fly, tying new patterns and the use of new materials in building flies.
During my first few visits to the Persian and the Arabian Gulf, I didn't see another angler fishing with a fly rod, though lots of people did show some interest. It wasn't only the Ex-pat's. Both the wealthy Arab's and the migrant Asian workers wanted to know more about this style of angling. Fly fishing created so much interest that one of the local glossy magazines published a feature on this type of angling. Many more people wanted to give it a try and today it's a different story with many anglers chucking flies in the ocean. On the Oman coastline last year I had several Arab men and boys watch me catch fish on the fly. Over the following few days I would take out time from my fishing to let these friendly people try fly fishing for themselves using my tackle and occasionally one of them would catch a fish. When they did so the smiles on their faces told a story of happiness and friendship. When I go back later this month I will be taking some extra rods, reels, lines and flies for the locals to use.
The Arab Nations have always been fishermen. On one of my visits to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, I was invited on board a local Sheikh's multi-million dollar yacht to meet the owner and his friends to discuss fly fishing in the ocean. At the time these fisherman were going out sports fishing with hand lines. Today some of them are using rods and reels. You don't need politicians as world-wide Ambassadors. We anglers can do a far better job!
Tackle to get started
As in all branches of angling the tackle we use can play a big part in our success and none more so than in fly fishing where the rod and line have to be balanced. When spinning, plug or bait fishing the weight of the lure or bait will take the line out. In fly fishing, it's the lines that casts the fly. You can save a few pounds on the rod and reel but the fly line should be the best money can buy. I make no secret of the fact I use Cortland weight forward lines made in the United States. In saltwater fly fishing you need at least two lines, an intermediate and a fast sinker - during the year you will use both types of lines. I also have a floating line which I use a lot during the summer months, It's an ideal line for fishing poppers. Over the past few months I have been using Cortland's new Ghost tip. It's certainly a line I wouldn't want to be without for my future fishing trips. Most of my nylon leaders are between six and nine feet. The butt end of the leader which is needle knotted to the fly line wants to be around thirty to forty pound breaking strain, this will give you a better 'turn-over'. Tippet strength will depend on the fish species you are hoping to catch and the conditions being fished. If you're fishing for school bass in an area without snags you can fish a twelve pound breaking strain tippet. Fishing in or close to kelp beds or rocks you will probably want a twenty pound tippet - as always, it's horses for courses.
Rods and Reels
When fishing the ocean you need a good quality reel that is corrosion proof and fitted with a good quality and workable drag system that won't seize up when you hook that big one. There are many reels on the market to choose from such as Tibor, Billy Pate, Tidemaster, Orvis, Lamson, Abel, Loop and Islander to name a few. We are fortunate in the United Kingdom to have a top class reel manufacturer in J W Young's based in Redditch, where they have been making quality engineered reels for many years. This company's Sea Venture reels can only be described as excellent. I use them with great confidence. These reels are so good, I am now in the process of selling some of my Tibor reels. I am always happiest when using a British engineered reel. The Sea Venture saltwater fly reels have a cutaway cage and spool machined from premium quality aluminium bar stock. At all times in the manufacture, exacting tolerances are maintained. These reels have a stainless steel spindle and components designed and made for saltwater use with removable handles. They also come in standard and large arbor sizes for all types of fishing from bonefish to tarpon. All reels are colour anodised and come finish in red, blue, gold and black, Spare spools are also available.
When it comes to deciding on a fly rod for saltwater fly fishing we anglers are spoilt for choice. Walk into a good fly fishing shop in the UK and you will find fly fishing rods made in Britain, America and Japan. Many will be household names; Sage, Scott, Loomis, St Croix, Orvis, Masterline, Fly-Logic and others. If you can only afford one rod my advice is go for a nine foot, nine weight in a four piece with two good stripping guides, one of 20 mm the other 16 mm with outsize guides and a big tip guide. Lefty Kreh, the Richard Walker of American fishing, recommends a 25 mm stripping guide and I go along with Lefty's advice. By choosing a four piece rod you can take it on your aircraft.
Don't worry about 4 piece rods not being strong enough. I have used them for all types of fishing including shark fishing. I have taken blues to 120lbs without any problems. I remember stopping an eighty pound plus fish in its tracks after it started a dive, then pumped it to the surface without giving an inch of line. Conway Bowman said "You're a bit aggressive with your fish Martin". I said "Yes, I am in the process of testing a new range of saltwater fly rods". There was no better test than cramping on the pressure when a shark dives. The rod stood the test.
What you must do on your return from a saltwater fly fishing trip is make sure you thoroughly clean the rod, reel and fly line. After a day freshwater fishing you can get away with not cleaning your gear - but not when fishing in saltwater, which is very corrosive. The rod should be washed in warm soapy water making sure you clean the reel fitting and rod guides. An old tooth brush comes in handy for this job. Don't forget to scrub the rod handle free of slime, especially if it's been a successful day. The rod should then be rinsed off in clean water and dried. Occasionally grease the male ferrule with a candle. Reels should be stripped of their lines and thoroughly washed in hot soapy water. Don't neglect the reel foot. This is another time when a toothbrush comes in handy. After washing the reel, rinse it off in clean water then thoroughly dry the reel, taking special care of the inside of the drum and the drag area. Fly lines need to be washed, rinsed then dried. I also apply a good brand of line cleaner then polish off the line with a soft cloth.
During your days fishing you will no doubt have used a few flies. These too need to be washed then dried. The best way to dry them off and return them to their previous condition is with the use of a hair dryer. This also applies to flies used in freshwater.
Baskets - They Aid Fish Catching And Casting
When you spotted the word baskets in the heading you were probably wandering what James was writing about! Fishing the surf, or moving tide water, you need a basket to hold the retrieved line. Drop your fly line in the water and it will get pulled away in the moving water - and it ends up in an almighty tangle. If you're fishing from the rocks, the loose line can easily get washed into rock crevasses which usually means another costly fly line is lost. I know this from bitter experience when fishing from the stone jetties in the Arabian Gulf. When you're casting or dropping the line on the rocks or stones the line can easily get trapped. Fishing from jetties, pier or a boat there will be many things wanting to grab hold of your line. Using a stripping basket stops all these problems. A stripping basket should have some cones fitted in the bottom. In the United States it's possible to buy a set of cones so you can turn that washing bowl into a good stripping basket. In the UK the only good basket I have seen and used is an Orvis product.
A stripping basket is fitted around the waist by a wide belt though some anglers prefer to use an elastic cord as sold in garage shops, the choice is yours alone.
Strip Strike - That's The Strike
One of the problems I see the newcomer to saltwater fly fishing do when they feel a fish is give a hefty strike upwards as they would in trout fishing. If you miss the fish on the strike you will have pulled the fly away from the fish by many feet. You will then have no chance of getting a second take from the following fish. If you need to set the hook by using the rod, strike parallel to the water. Should you then miss the fish on the strike, your fly is still within range of the fish. I feel the best striking position is as follows: When you see a fish take hold (which is often) or feel a fish grab, keep your rod tip pointed at the fly and with your stripping hand give a good short rapid strike. If you feel the need to, give two or three of these strip strikes. Then wait for the fish to move off. If you miss the fish it might come back and grab hold of your fly a second time because you will have only moved the fly a short distance. Only lift the rod when you feel the fish. Don't lift the rod tip high as in trout or coarse fishing. If you're playing a hefty fish when boat fishing, keep the rod below shoulder level. Remember the whole rod should be used in playing the fish. Remember you have more than a top joint of your rod to play the fish on. All the rod should be bought into play. Not enough anglers bring the butt of the rod into play when fighting a big fish.
Chesapeake Bay - It's Awesome
Last month I visited Chesapeake Bay in Maryland to fish for striper bass and met the Richard Walker of the American fishing scene, the one and only Lefty Kreh. It was magic out on the bay at dawn. The only people about were three anglers and some clammers. These latter guys certainly have it tough as they work away in all conditions to earn a few dollars making sure we can have our clam chowder. As I moved down the creek I heard that evocative sound of the gurgling swirling of the tide as it flowed up the channel, moving out over the mud flats and barnacle covered rocks. Some distance out on the main tide line I could hear the sound of the ocean as it crashed onto some rocks. In the distance I could make out the shape of the channel buoys swaying to and fro in the windswept ocean. Above the sound of a thousand or so Canada geese that were honking and clamouring, I could hear the gong of the bell on the channel buoys as they sounded their strident warning note. In the light of a new dawn I could hear the bait-size fish crashing out of the water long before I spotted them, a mass of finger size fish. Suddenly a dorsal fin appeared then disappeared. Another tail, then a dorsal fin appeared some fifty feet away. I stood mesmerised.
"Get casting Martin" shouted Brandon.
Tackle was a nine weight, nine foot, four piece St Croix rod, Sea Venture reel with a Cortland Ghost tip line to which I had attached a nine foot tapered leader with a fifteen pound tippet. The fly was a barbless chartreuse and white Clouser minnow. Forty feet to my left I spotted several swirls, first a tail appeared then another, then another. I spotted a dorsal fin cutting through the wind swept water surface. It was certainly an exciting moment. I made two false casts then shot the line. The Clouser landed a foot in front of the slowly moving dorsal finning fish. I drew the fly away from the fish with a foot long strip then it stopped dead. The leading bass had grabbed hold. A firm strip strike set the hook into fish number one. Half a second or so later the water erupted then boiled as the fish realised it was tethered to my line. The reel grudgingly gave the fish some line as it battled for survival and the safety of deep water. The striper wasn't to know it would be released when landed. A few minutes of give and take and the fish was mine. A nice fish of about 3lbs. Slipping out the barbless hook I had Brandon shoot a couple of pictures then watched the fish swim off strongly.
During my stay I caught plenty of striped bass plus some bluefish and one sea trout. The bluefish have to be treated with great respect. They have a mouth full of razor sharp teeth so reminiscent of the piranha I used to catch in South America. They soon rip the flies to bits, often leaving a bare hook: in fact many bluefish get caught on baitless hooks!
One of the top guides in the area is Richie Gains. Ritchie is a native of Maryland who grew up fishing the Potomac river. His family operated a marina and restaurant on the river where he spent many days pursuing perch and striper. As the striper population spiralled downward he began fishing for largemouth bass, enjoying success in the regional bass tournaments. Ritchie become a professional fishing guide in 1987 specialising in largemouth bass. In recent years, with the recovery of the striped bass in Chesapeake Bay, Ritchie went back to his roots and the stripers - which fight a lot harder than do the largemouth bass! His primary fishing areas are the Potomac river, the Upper Chesapeake Bay and most of the eastern shore tidal rivers. If you're on business in Maryland or Washington DC and you're interested in a days fishing in the Chesapeake Bay area, E-mail Ritchie - firstname.lastname@example.org - Ritchie will supply all the gear needed. It's all top class branded fly or light tackle equipment.
Christmas Gift Wish
This is the month when we hope for that special present, I cannot think of a better gift than my book choice of the year 2000 titled 'Bonefishing' by Randall Kaufmann. In my lifetime I have been privileged to read many fine books with travel, natural history and fishing among my favourite. In my study I have over 2000 book titles from the 1700's to the present day covering all aspects of salt and freshwater angling. Some have become classics in their own right where they have stood the test of time. Since the days of sailing ships, British anglers have been great travellers. During the 1800's they were fishing all corners of the world. Then on their return home some of these adventurous anglers would put pen to paper writing about their travels, catches, and adventures. This in turn made others follow in their footsteps.
I suppose the 1990's were the years when bonefish become the cult fish. Salmon anglers no longer wanted to spend a couple of thousands of pounds sterling on a fish-less river in Scotland with rain and mosquitoes as company. Why should they when for the same amount of cash they could travel to exotic locations such as the Florida Keys or the Bahamas to fish for bonefish, tarpon and permit. Or perhaps achieve the grand slam? What wife or girl friend wouldn't swop rainy Britain for the sunny Bahamas? No longer did she look upon fishing as that old boring game. You the angler were encouraged to go in search of the bonefish.
During the 1990's several books were published about catching this great sporting flats fish - known as the grey ghost or silver bullet. Hundreds, no thousands of articles were published. During this period two books changed the face of bonefishing, Del Browns 'Fly fishing for bonefishing' published by Lyons and Burford and 'Bonefishing With A Fly' by Randal Kaufmann published by Western Fisherman's Press. Before my first bonefishing trip, the latter book become my bedtime reading for several months. Even today, two or three weeks before a trip chasing bones Kaufmann's book once again becomes important reading.
I have been very fortunate in meeting some excellent bonefish anglers who have helped me in my quest for this glamour fish of the 21st century. To them all I will always be grateful. It really started back in 1991 on a visit to Oregon in my quest for the steelhead. I met up with those great anglers Gordon Nash and Jerry Swanson who worked in Kaufmann's Streamborn fly shop at Tigard near Portland Oregon. I would sit for hours at a time as they regaled me with tales of bonefish trips. Today at the start of a new century a new book has been published simply titled 'Bonefishing' This is not just any bonefishing book, This is truly the bible for all bone fishers. Don't go after those silver bullets of the flats before you have read Bonefishing by Randall Kaufmann published by Western Fisherman's Press. This volume has 414 pages measuring 9" by 11" and weighing in at around four and a half pounds. That size of bonefish will pull your string and bend your stick like no salmon ever could.
Randall Kaufmann, Brian O'Keefe, and Mike Stidham in this book have captured the magic and mystique of bonefishing. I can do no better than quote the following. 'You sense the freedom of the wind and feel the surf and tide tugging at your psych, You experience the adrenaline rush of speeding bonefish and saviour the tranquil ambience as the sun transforms into a fireball and sizzles into the ocean'.
Fly fishing for bonefish is easy. It does not require mythical prowess or exceptional angling skills. It is much less complicated and technical than fly fishing for trout. Neophyte anglers often hook bonefish on their first adventure. This book Bonefishing tells you where, when, and how to do it. Bonefishing by Randall Kaufmann is the definitive work on the subject. If you are a bonefish aficionado, you must have this book. If you are not yet a bonefish angler, you soon will be. It's without doubt the best book on this great sport of angling it has been my pleasure to read. In fifty years time bonefish anglers will say 'Have your read that book Bonefishing by Randall Kaufmann?'
Go out and buy it now. It's available from Paul Morgan Coch-Y-Bonddu Books Telephone 01654-702837 or E-mail Kaufmann's Streamborn. email@example.com Why not get them to send you their latest catalogue.
Have a goods months fly fishing, an excellent Christmas and New Year holiday then join me for a very special January 2001 www.fishing.co.uk feature: when I get to meet two of the worlds top anglers and writers Lefty Kreh and Boyd Pfeiffer, and you get the chance to join me on a saltwater fly fishing trip.
Kindest regards Martin James E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org