Begin Saltwater Fly Fishing - Part 1: Fly Rods

For many anglers, the first experience of fishing was catching Mackerel on feathers from a pier or jetty; for others, it may have been catching Perch using a small float and maggots on the local river. However, regardless of the method used, early experiences are very much characterised by simple tackle. LRF (light rock fishing) is a fantastic example of this. The focus is on using minimalist tackle to catch a variety of species using light rods and reels, light braids, small jig-heads, and artificial baits such as worms. It's great fun and very productive if you hit the right time and spot. So it's no wonder that Saltwater Fly Fishing is becoming increasingly popular these days. Like when you first started fishing, its allure is in its simplicity.  In this series of articles, we discuss all the essential gear, starting with fly rods.

The term 'fly' is commonly associated with Trout or Salmon fishing, but for the saltwater fly fisher, it's something of a misnomer. The 'fly' in saltwater fly fishing generally falls into the category of mimicking small baitfish, crustaceans or even worms, and rarely insects.
In contrast to shore fishing with surf rods, pendulum casting, and three hook flapper rigs, Saltwater fly-fishing is an extremely lightweight fishing method, and gives you an unparalleled feeling of connection with fish, particularly as playing one often involves controlling the saltwater fly line literally by hand, rather than off the reel. Of course, with saltwater flies weighing only a few grams, and no separate weight to load the rod to launch the lure towards the waiting fish, fly fishing has evolved a different method of casting. In fly casting, the line itself provides the weight that loads the rod for the cast, not the end-tackle.

Pollack on the Fly
‘Normal’ beach rods are designed to work within a specified range of weights with some variation to cope with different fishing conditions. Fly-rods are a far more specific and balanced affair. Because the line itself is weighted, a classification system was devised to standardise the different weights of lines and match them precisely to a suitable rod. In matching saltwater fly rods to fly lines, both are attributed with ‘weights’ ranging from ‘0’ (ultralight) to ‘16’ (big-game!), and are often displayed with a ‘#’ symbol in front. So an ‘#8’ denotes an 8-weight rod or line, therefore, matching an #8 rod to the equivalent line gives you the optimum casting performance.

UK Saltwater Fly Fishing
For UK saltwater fly fishing, rods in the #6-9 range are common. If you had to pick the optimum all-rounder, then a #8 rod is ideal. While these fly rods can handle large fish, they are susceptible and will readily transmit the enthusiastic fizz and rattle from the tiniest school bass.

Sage Salt HD Fly Rod
So to begin saltwater fly fishing, why go to an #8 rod? Because of the generally breezy conditions that prevail around the UK coast, extra weight is required in the lines to help and improve casting control and distances. It provides the best balance between sport and coping with our blustery, changeable coastline conditions.

Greys GR50 9ft #8 Fly Rod
At this point, it’s worth dispelling another preconception. Fly fishing gear does not have to cost the earth. Perfectly capable fly rods start for as little as £60. However, you do need to make sure it’s suitable for saltwater exposure though, as most fly rods are designed for freshwater rivers and reservoirs, so are often not very corrosion-resistant.  This is a similar story with saltwater fly reels.
Redington Path II 9ft #8 Fly Rod
It's also worth noting that if you plan to fish for Bonefish, Permit or Tarpon, which are rather large, the same principle applies. You need a saltwater fly rod, fly line and saltwater fly leader setup that's suitable for the conditions and target species you will be fishing.

Saltwater Fly Fishing in the Tropics
However, for UK saltwater fly fishing, you need a 9ft rod, which gives you the optimum length for casting without tiring. It's an active pursuit involving constant casting and retrieving, so the lighter, but stronger, the better. The rods are generally four-piece in construction, which makes them ideal for holidays too.
You are also looking for the ability to generate higher line speed so you can achieve good turnover in exposed, windy conditions.  You also need a rod that is strong enough to withstand the rigours of hard fighting fish. Look for fast action blanks, saltwater safe, anodised reel seats, and ideally, a fighting butt.

Greys GR70 Salt Powerlux Fly Rod

In part 2, we talk about fly lines and fly reels for saltwater fly fishing.

This article was brought to you in association with Sea Angler Magazine.