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Don’t give up on the Salt...
Article by Mike Laubscher of Blue Water Charters | Durban
On several occasions when I’ve been out saltwater fly fishing I have met fellow fly fishermen that are relatively new to the sport, and they have told me the same story, that they want to give up as they have been fishing for 1 – 2 years and have had little or no success and that they doubt their skill as anglers especially when they see and hear of other fly fishermen catching these huge, wonderful fish. It breaks my heart when I hear this, and for this reason I write this article – For all you fellow saltwater fly fishermen out there who are about to give up. DON’T. For those experienced guys please bear with me as this is “old hat” for you.
Firstly I would like to let you know that most the guys fishing out there that catch those “huge wonderful fish” have done so by putting countless hours on the salt and have all had blank days and caught many smaller fish in between the “Big Ones”, sometimes they are just lucky but usually there is more to it than luck. There is no shame in catching smaller fish as the skill involved is the same as for the bigger ones and that is what counts.
When you are out on the salt, put a little thought into what you are fishing for, and how you intend to catch it, instead of “chuck and hope” as there are many species of fish and many flies to choose from and bear in mind some flies are designed to catch the fly fisherman. So where do you start?
You should try to be more selective about what fish you are targeting, taking into account the season, the tide, the time of day, the wind and your location I.E. Estuary, surf, gullies etc. and which area you are fishing. Based on this information you should be able to get a general idea of what fish you are going to encounter. There are many good books out there which can help you gain information and I advise you to read and learn as you can draw on the authors experience, I advise you to read books written by South African Authors as these have the appropriate information for the locations, the fish and the conditions where you are most likely to fish. E.G. In summer (September to April) along the Natal Coast I should expect to find small kingfish (from smaller than your hand up to about 1,5 Kg is normal but they can get larger, much larger) in the gullies, I can only expect to access the gullies around the low tide and the best time to find them there is early morning (05H00 to 09H30) on the outgoing tide, if the wind is blowing to hard you will foul your line on the rocks or you must limit yourself to a short cast, and truth be told that in the gullies a short cast is all you need, usually the wind is not blowing in the early morning so this is a safe bet.
Then you should try to establish what these fish are going to be feeding on, and what are the habits of the prey I.E. Where is the prey and how does it behave, this should give you a much better idea of where to find the fish, what fly to use, the size of the fly and how to use it. E.G. The small king fish are coming into the gullies for two reasons, 1 is to escape the larger fish that prey on them and the 2nd reason is to feed, I would be expecting them to feed on small fry and crustaceans and so I would be fishing a fly that imitates small fry or crustaceans, my first choice here would be to imitate crustaceans.
Fly selection seems to be the most difficult as there are so many patterns available on the market one does not know where to start, I personally believe that they way you fish your fly is far more important than the fly itself or the colour and to start with you should limit yourself to 4 or 5 patterns only which should cover you for most conditions and these flies should be good general imitations, the colour is not that important, form and movement are. You must also have an idea of what the fly will imitate. E.G. As I said before, my 1st choice would be to imitate crustaceans in the gullies for the small kingfish and I would do this with a size 8 or 10 Crazy Charlie in orange white or pink to start with to imitate shrimp etc.
How to fish the fly? If you are using a fly to imitate a specific prey of the fish you are targeting you need to know the behavior of the prey and once you have selected a fly to imitate that prey, now you must put that fly in the right place and make it move in the right way in order for you to outsmart the fish you are hunting. E.G. If you were using a Crazy Charlie to imitate shrimp in the gullies, you would know that the shrimp usually hover in mid water and make occasional darts. This means that you would let you fly be suspended in mid water just keeping your line in contact with the fly to feel the take and you would make the occasional fast strip (which often induces the take).
How to get you fly to the right place? You need to know where the prey is, that the fish you are hunting are. To do this you will need to learn how to cast well and accurately, but more importantly you must use the correct line because you need to position your fly in 3D, not only at the correct position on the surface of the water but at the correct depth and to do this you need to make use of the different type of lines available on the market I.E. floating, intermediate and sinking. A lot of people will tell you that you should start out with an intermediate line because you can use it on the top and deeper whilst this is true it is very limiting, as you can’t really use a popper properly (unless you are experienced) nor can you get to the deeper parts fast enough so my advice to you would be to have 3 lines, a floating line, an intermediate line and a sinking line with a sink rate of 3 – 4 inches per second (DI 3 or DI 4). You don’t need 3 spools as you can change you line before you start, but spare spools is the answer. If you can’t afford this then stick to an intermediate line and learn to make it work for you. E.G. If I was hunting the kingfish in the gullies with a Crazy Charlie I would use a floating line as my first choice, the swells will have a tendency to snag other lines on the rocks and this could become expensive if you lose or damage a line, the weight of the bead chain eyes will help sink your fly, as well as the swell and currents, if you are using an intermediate line you must be very alert and will have to retrieve much quicker.
Remember lighter leaders and tippets will catch more fish; they will also lose more fish so use the right tippet for the job and sometimes you will even need a shock tippet. E.G. In the gullies for the kingfish I would use 6 – 10 lb line, for shad I would use a 20 lb shock tippet with a 10 lb leader. Never let your tippet be the strongest part of your line make up, the Max. I use for a class tippet is 17lb. So if I have to straight stick the class tippet is the weakest part of the link. Make sure you use good knots.
In short, you must think before you fish, learn more about the hunter and the hunted and in so doing you will improve your fishing. I sincerely hope that this article will help you and keep you interested in this great sport. Remember to fish barbless, catch, release and revive so that our children can also enjoy this great sport and that we do not leave them a legacy of barren seas.
I will make a list of what I flies I would select and I hope this will be of use to you.
(no wings and bead chain eyes) – size 8 (or size 10 if you can get), in chartreuse, pink, orange, white and brown (also olive if you can get) these flies will imitate several crustaceans and even small fry. This is one of my all time favourite flies and if I had to make a choice of only one pattern it would be this one and only one colour it would be white. Because of the bead chain eyes these flies swim with the hook pointing up and thereby reduce a lot of snagging.
(Std. Version with steel dumbbell eyes – the lead eyes damage to easily) – size 6 to size 1 (my choice size 2) in pink with white tail, hot pink with white tail (if you can get), chartreuse with white tail, all white and yellow with white tail and don’t forget the fire clouser which is all yellow with bright red along the shank and nose offering maximum contrast. These flies are excellent small fish imitators and they will also imitate some crustaceans, because of the dumbbell eyes they will also fish with the hook pointing up and they will sink fast, these flies have a superb up and down action if fished with a pause retrieve. This pattern would be my definite second choice very close to the Crazy Charlie and also one of my all time favourites.
(There are various types on the market you can select blondes, lefty’s etc) – size 6 to size 1 (My choice size 4 and size 1) in pink, chartreuse, yellow, white and light blue and gray. Deceivers are fish imitators and you would match the colour to what you are trying to imitate, chartreuse seems to be everyone’s favourite probably as it imitates small shad but also as this colour is very visible. The eyes on these deceivers must be large and shiny.
(You cannot go fishing without this fly – That’s an Order). Tied in small sizes like size 8, 10, 12 & 14 in white (best all round colour), pink, yellow (Excellent for gullies), chartreuse and orange. I have not seen this fly in the shops but it is truly a superb fly and when all else fails use this fly it is an imitator of crustaceans and small fry. This fly was developed by Allen O Conner and is based on the woolly bugger used for trout This fly will certainly be Allen’s legacy to South African saltwater fly fishermen. To tie this fly you use a brass or tungsten bead or even a brass cone head, then tie in marabou for the tail twice as long as the hook shank with a little flash (or not) and then use dubbing (my preference) or chenille wrapped around the shank.
POPPERS AND POPPING HEADS.
Your arsenal will not be complete without them. I am of the opinion that the fish does not care what colour your popper is he is only interested in how it breaks the surface of the water, so the poppers with all the fancy paintwork are only for your benefit, some may argue with me and the colour won’t make the fly less effective so you choose. I never paint my poppers and they remain the colour of the material I make them from which is usually white. I tie them from size 8 up to size 1. You can also use popping heads which is a cylindrical piece of foam which you thread your line through and you use with your std, deceiver patterns; just make sure you force the foam over the hook eye to prevent twisting and wrapping. There are some good poppers on the market, remember they are more difficult to cast and do not buy poppers that are too large.