Thoughts on your first Saltwater Flats Trip.

Post by Cooper Anderson

It’s summer time, and for a lot of fly fishermen, that means you are thinking about a saltwater fishing trip. Living in Colorado, I dream of summer saltwater trips and trading the warm bulky winter gear for flip flops and board shorts. But there is a lot to consider when planning a saltwater trip. Where to go, what to bring, and how to get ready.


Let’s start with how to choose a destination. This really depends on a few things, what species of fish you want catch, your experience level, and of course your budget. I could literally write about hundreds of salt water species.


For this article, I will stick to the 4 most popular species redfish, bonefish, permit, and tarpon. If this is your first saltwater trip I would recommend starting with redfish. They are a little more forgiving to bad casts, and usually willing to eat. In the U.S.A. we are lucky and have redfish from the Texas coast up to the Carolinas. Some hot spots include Louisiana, Florida, and the Carolinas.


Next on the list is the bonefish. These “ghosts of the flats” can be a little more of a challenge, but it depends where you go. In the U.S.A the main place for bonefish is Florida. If you have saltwater experience and are looking for some bigger bonefish, the Florida Keys is where you want to be. Most of the fish will be in the 7-12-pound range. But they are very well educated to fisherman, and can be very challenging. A great place to get your first or 100th bonefish close to the U.S.A. is the Bahamas. Typically, they are smaller less educated, and in bigger schools upwards of a 100+ fish.


Next on the list is the elusive permit. These guys can be very challenging no matter where you go. Once again in the U.S.A. the Fl. Keys are your best bet. Same as the bonefish, permit are typically very weary of eating flies but tend to be bigger in the keys. Outside of the U.S.A. a few spots that come to mind are Belize and Southern Mexico. Both spots have quite a few bonefish as well, but there claim to fame is the permit.


Last on the list is the tarpon. It is referred to as the “silver king” for a reason, big silver scales and they can grow upwards of 200+ pounds. In the spring there is no better place in the world then Fl. Specifically the keys. The tarpon migrate from all over the world to the keys from late February to July. Outside the U.S.A. they can be found in Mexico and Belize.


Ok! So, you have done your research and booked a trip, now what do you bring? One of the most important items for saltwater fly fishing is a good pair of polarized sun glasses. One big difference from most trout fly fishing to saltwater fly fishing is, It’s a sight fishing game. Very rarely are you blind casting, you or your guide spots a fish and you then make the cast. I recommend glass lenses in the salt. It is inevitable you will get some saltwater spray on your glasses from the boat ride, or a fish splashing at the boat during the release. With glass you don't have to worry about scratching the lens if you wipe off the salt water, but with a plastic lens they will defiantly get scratched up. Yes, glass is heaver but quite a few companies are making some pretty lightweight glass these days.


Next is a hat standard, but having a hat with a dark preferably black under brim will cut down on glare and help you see fish better. Much the same reason football players put the black under their eyes. As far as clothing goes you want lightweight clothes. I prefer a long sleeve sun shirt with built in SPF.  If you are out on the water for 8hrs the sun can be viscous especially when reflecting off the water. A sun mask and sun gloves are also a great thing to bring. I usually wear shorts but occasionally wear lightweight breathable pants, mainly to keep my legs out of the sun for a day or two.


Footwear really depends on where you end up going, if your destination has some wadding involved a good pair of wadding boots is a must. If you are only going to be fishing from a skiff you have some options. Some people like to go barefoot, one it’s comfortable and two you can tell if you are accidentally standing on your fly line. The other option is some boat shoes or even your favorite pair of light-weight running shoes. These will add support to your feet and a little cushion on bumpy days. Make sure they are non-marking shoes, your guide will not be too happy if at the end of the day his or her boat is all scuffed up from your shoes. Another piece of clothing that is a must to bring along on a saltwater trip is a raincoat.


Hopefully you won't need it; but guess what, it rains in the tropics and having a nice light weight raincoat can be your best friend.


Next is the obvious rod/ reel. Once again, the really depends on where you go and what you are fishing for. Redfish most people use an 8wt or 9 wt rod, bonefish is the same 8wt or 9wt, permit 10wt seems to be the most popular, and for the tarpon 10wt and 11wt are the go-to.


As far as reels go, you definitely want a reel that is large arbor and is saltwater safe (i.e.: made of aluminum and stainless steel). The large arbor helps retrieve line faster which is very important in the salt. A reel with a good smooth, and strong drag is also a must. Make sure you have as much backing on the reel as it allows.  The fish in the salt once hooked can and will pull off a lot of line from your reel.


As far as fly line goes, most people use floating wt. forward line.  Most guides in the states will have rods and reels ready for you to use. The Bahamas, Belize, and Mexico you definitely want to bring your own.


And the last piece of equipment you will need are flies. Once again this really depends on what species of fish you are after. I would highly recommend using what your guide suggests. Get in touch with him or her prior to the trip so you can either buy or tie some!


Ok so you have your trip planed you know what to bring, now what? Well if you are coming from freshwater and used to chasing trout, saltwater is a whole different sport. First off, trading in your 5wt or 6wt for a 9wt or 11wt is a big change. I can't stress this enough, practice your casting before you go! It will help you out and make your trip that much more productive. Yes, learn the double haul; this is a must in the salt. The main purpose for the double haul is to create line speed this allows for more distance on your cast, with less false casts. You typically are not going to have a lot of time to false cast, 2 false casts usually and let it fly. Don't be afraid of the double haul, just like anything in fly fishing it takes some practice.


But I can tell you it’s a lot easier to learn on an open field then on the bow of a skiff when the fish of your dreams is swimming by, and your guide is shouting at you to make a 60ft cast, now. Distance and accuracy will up your chances a lot on a saltwater trip.


The other big difference in the saltwater is wind. You are almost guaranteed to have some wind while fishing saltwater. Learn to cast into the wind, it’s not always going to be at your back.


Another very important cast to have is your “backhand cast”, when you are on a skiff there are many times you won't be able to do your traditional forehand cast. This is a very overlooked part in casting, you should be able to cast as well with your back hand as your fore hand.


Next is know how guides direct you to seeing fish, 9 times out of 10 the guide will see the fish before you. He or she will say something like coming at you 3 o'clock 60 ft. most guides use the clock as a general way of getting you the angler to look in the direction the fish is at. For example, if you are on the bow (front of the boat) and you are looking straight ahead that is 12 o'clock. So slightly to your right would be 1 o’clock then 2 o'clock and so on. With that said looking to your left it would be 11 o'clock 10 o'clock and so on. One big no no on a skiff is the 12 o'clock cast, the reason is your guide is directly behind you polling the skiff and there is a very high chance on your back cast you will hit him or her.


The other main difference is the hook set. In the saltwater you must do a strip set. Basically, keep striping once you feel the bite and keep your rod tip down. This is a very common problem amongst trout fishermen because when fishing for trout you lift the rod up to set the hook. It can be a very hard habit to break. I have found that before I go on a saltwater trip I practice the strip set. A good way to practice this is with a friend. You already should be working on your cast, make a long cast, have your friend hold the line and slowly walk towards you as you strip in the line. Have your friend pretend to eat the fly by having them stop walking towards you, when you feel tension on the fly line point the rod at your friend and strip-set keeping the tip down and not going above parallel with the grass/water. Make sure you don't have a fly on or you might not be friends for long. Sometimes I like to close my eyes so I can't cheat and see them stop. The more you practice the more confidence you will have on the bow of the skiff, and confidence is key to success.


If you'd like to receive emails about our blog posts, click here and sign up.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published