Fly fishing the salt
Grass and sand flats provide food and relative security for fish. The edges and drop-offs are also promising spots to search. Fish will position themselves there for a foray into the shallows or a dive into deeper water for security.
As you gain experience you will notice that the water is not at all stationary but flows quite a bit. In the bays, there are certain structures we like. Piles of rocks on the bottom (ballast from a bygone era) can hold fish. All pilings and docks should be considered as possible holding spots. Wherever you can detect uneven movement of water and ever so slight changes in the seascape there is a possibility that fish lie there. Canals are a good bet for fish too, and bayous, as well.
Close to passes where the bays meet the Gulf you have a lot of movement in the water when one body pushes against the other. The tides will also add to the movement. Look for structures that lead to an uneven flow of water; these are the holding spots. Where one body of water moves past another there must be a place in between where water is stationary. That is a good place to park for fish and survey the “conveyor belts” on each side. Pay close attention to the seams and edges of these currents since they are possible holding spots.
When ‘fishing the salt’ the fish often take the fly with gusto, and some even hook themselves. I recommend that you strip strike in the salt. Keep the rod down (don’t be a “trouter”), and just pull hard once or twice with the line hand to set the hook. Then you can lift the rod. There is no waffling and nibbling, they mean business and slaughter the fly. The first time you witness a strike like that there can be some sphincter malfunction.
Fishing the salt is different from freshwater fishing in several ways. First, there are no holding places, these fish are constantly on the move and you cannot rely on them having a constant zip code. In the streams, the food is brought to the fish, but in the salt, they must chase it. Your primary concern is to locate the fish. You can go about that by walking the beach and look for fish in the first or second trough. Be observant of the behavior of the birds. These fish can, surprisingly, be found very close to the waterline. Then you can use a boat to search for them.
We do not blind cast much in the salt. We stalk the fish and then we cast. Then there is the blessed, relentless wind, that always harder than you hoped for, and there is no shelter from it. The wind is usually constant and rare is the day we have flat seas.
When we are fishing from a boat, it is constantly moving a bit, and this will affect the cast. You will have a hard time producing your longest casts in the salt. Now if you can cast 100′ on grass, you drop down to 80′, but that is enough. I cannot stress it enough for saltwater fly fishing, you must practice your casts.
The flies we use in the salt are much bigger than the trout anglers and salmon anglers use. Some of the poppers the Jacks like demand #10 line to cast them (observe the popper in the corner of the Jack’s mouth, see the picture above). These flies are bigger and heavier and are much more difficult to cast (air resistant and weight), than the usual big trout or salmon flies. The lines and rods subsequently need to be more powerful.
These fish move constantly, they are always on their way somewhere and you need to place the fly ahead of them and intersect their traveling line. You need to cast fast and often far. You get one or two chances to place your fly before they are gone again. You must master the double haul and be able to shoot the line. Your loops need to become razor-sharp. Keep false casting to an absolute minimum. Practice until you can cast 90-100′ with a single backcast. Line flash will scare these fish and keeping casts horizontal is a good choice. You need to be able to get the line out at least 50′ for the salt, if not practice until you can. The saltwater guides want you to be successful, it is rewarding for you and it reflects well for them. I have met many saltwater fly guides, and the verdict is always the same; Most fly anglers have difficulties in the salt. But there is a very simple cure for that, practice (and get lessons).
Most freshwater fly anglers lack speed and length because they do not need it where they usually fish. When they go fishing in the salt it becomes obvious. Now we luck into hooking a saltwater fish. They are not confined in a pool or a river with terra firma all around. They have plenty of water to escape into, and I tell you, they bolt. These fish are on average bigger and stronger than freshwater species, and thus harder to subdue. In short saltwater fly fishing is much harder for me, than fresh water fly fishing, but very exciting and enjoyable.
Following video depicts how a large school of False Albacore looks
Where I live in the Florida Panhandle I can fly fish year-round. The State fishing permit costs 17.50$ a year (here my Icelandic readers will probably have a collective seizure) and many fish species will take the fly. The one I especially like is the False Albacore. We can catch it out in the Gulf where we find big schools of them crashing the surface. We also find them during the winter cruising the first or second trough and we can cast to them from the first sandbar. If the Albacore takes your fly, you are in for a ride. The moment they realize they are hooked they will strip out the entire fly line in seconds, and far into the backing they go. The reel is screaming and hopefully, it will not cease up. Beware – and keep your fingers from the turning spool, the handle can break your fingers if they get caught by the handle. Big Albacore can repeat this run twice. They are the fastest fish I have yet caught. But really, I love to catch all different species of fish (you could call me an equal opportunity angler).
Additionally, we have Redfish, Spotted Trout, Spanish Mackerel, and Jack Crevalle to name some. There is not a want of species. We need fast rods for this type of fishing. We like to say that 50′ casts are minimum and every 10′ after that will double your chances.
When fishing from a boat the Dolphins will hang around and try to snatch a meal when we land or release a fish. They seem to know which boats do that. Then there is the Barracuda, an absolute villain. I will not even mention the Sharks.