There are as many saltwater fly techniques around as there are flies, which means the whole thing is just about limitless.
However, just like flies, there are a handful of more successful techniques that will catch fish under most circumstances, so we’ll look at these and how you can refine them to suit particular applications, flies and species. Let’s start with some basic estuary techniques and then cover a few points in more detail.
When considering various saltwater fly techniques there are many factors that come into the equation. A technique is not simply a casting-and-retrieve style. While it does involve casting and retrieving a fly, it also has to suit the fly style, size and weight and also the flyline and leader being used.
For example, it’s a waste of time trying to use a slow, strip-and-wait retrieve for flathead in three metres of water using a floating line and an unweighted fly. Your casting and retrieve rate may be spot on but if the fly is two metres above the fish and not getting seen, you will get only casting practice. This is one of the big attractions of saltwater fly for me. You have to be on your toes all the time, thinking about how to put the right fly in front of where fish should be.
The first requirement in any saltwater fly technique is casting. Without being able to cast efficiently you will struggle no matter how good you can tie flies or what tackle you have. Practice is the key but you need a solid understanding of casting basics to build on that practice.
Anyone getting into SWF or having casting problems should get a copy of a casting video by Lefty Kreh or Mel Krieger and study it. Once you understand the basics, it’s surprising just how far you will be casting and how much more efficiently your tackle will be working. As a guide, you should be using most of the fly line under good conditions, which means 25- to 30-metre casts. You’ll only get that sort of distance with tight loops, a straight fly line and an efficient casting style.
Once you can put a fly where you want it, it’s time to start looking at what fly to use and what you want it to do. This is where fly weight, leader and flyline come into the picture because all three work in unison to allow the fly to be worked deep, shallow or anywhere in between.
Obviously, deep work should involve weighted flies and sinking flylines while surface work involves floating lines and unweighted flies. Once this area is sorted out, you can start to think about the species targeted and where your fly should be to have the most impact. For example, if you’re after flathead, your fly should be getting down to the bottom or close to it. Depending on the water depth, you may need to use heavily-weighted flies or an intermediate line that sinks slowly or even a combination of both.
For most of my estuary work on bream and flathead I use a slow-strip retrieve with a range of Clouser or Deceiver flies. Over flats, I’ll fish anything from No 4 Clousers for bream to 2/0 Deceivers for flathead. Imitation and matching the hatch also comes into play here and you’ll find that many productive techniques involve using a fly pattern that resembles a prawn or pink nipper, etc. and fishing it so that it looks and acts like the real thing while being in the right area.
For example, you could be fishing a pale pink Clouser or Baited Breath along the bottom in a metre of water with short, slow strips so that it looks like a pink nipper. Another example would be to fish a pale green or grey fly in short, sharp strips mid-water around weed beds so it resembles a prawn. If you think about what you are trying to achieve with your fly and tailor a technique for the right areas, you’ll be surprised how many fish you’ll raise.
Stripping is a vital part of any technique and despite what many anglers think, there are variations on simply pulling fly line in with one hand so that the fly moves through the water. The most common strip is a one-handed style, with one hand pulling in line in strips from 30cm to 60cm while the other hand holds the rod and the stripped line in front of the stripping hand.
There are an infinite number of variations on this technique, with long, slow strips without a pause to short, quick strips with long waits, and so on. Another technique I use when chasing pelagics such as salmon and bonito is to cast an unweighted fly into a school with an intermediate line and let it sink slowly without stripping. With a Flashy Profile fly, this technique imitates a wounded baitfish sinking and we all know what happens to wounded baitfish when pelagics are around!
For faster fish, such as tuna, a quick retrieve is often necessary to induce a strike. For this ork I find a small fly such as a Surf Candy or Polarfibre Minnow works best with a two handed strip. For this you can put the rod under your arm or between your legs while both hands strip line alternatively as fast as they can. This imparts a quick and relatively smooth retrieve that works very well. Just make sure you’re not standing on flyline when you get a hit !
1Different flies require different techniques when it comes to casting, allowing time for the fly to sink and retrieve styles. Get it right and you’ll be surprised at how effective SWF can be.
2Pelagics like this salmon will usually grab just about anything but this doesn’t mean that one fly and technique won’t catch more fish. It pays to experiment with flies and techniques during every session.
3Success with flathead on fly is very dependent on fly, colour and technique.Reads: 431