Tackle Recommendations for Saltwater Fly Fishing

I am very late to the Saltwater fly fishing game, yes indeed, but striving mightily to make up for lost time.

A lot of folks have been calling and emailing asking about appropriate tackle, rods, reels, lines, leaders and such, for fly fishing in the ocean.  This post is intended to lay out just a few ideas and opinions to give people the confidence to get out there and give it a go.

First order of business is to say that if you get a chance to go fish in the salt, just do it.  Sure it would be better to have salt-dedicated gear, because the ocean can be really harsh on one’s tackle.  High end rods and reels of all brands are generally all-water componentized, with the exception of cane and the under-6 wts, so any of your best rods in the 6+ wt range with high-end fly reels will probably stand up to the salty brine, given a rinse after fishing.

Complete Saltwater Outfit Packages: take a peek online or just call or email the Caddis Fly and ask for a package deal on rod, reel, line, and backing.  The staff are skilled at assembling combo outfits that are properly matched to the species and fishing conditions you will encounter and these package deals offer significant savings if you decide to get a complete package.  Any rod, reel, and line can be included in every price range, so consider this option if it seems like you are going to give saltwater fly fishing a decent commitment.

The following recommendations are personal; and these are not brand-name based, and intended merely to help you feel the excitement of dreaming about fishing in the Ocean.  It is wonderful, not really knowing what might be about to close its mouth on your fly.  Big fish and small fish, fast fish and stubborn fish, they often live together, and it is like being a kid again to head west with fly rod aboard.

Black Rockfish Tackle:

Rod wt: I like to fish a 5 or 6 wt if the fish are in the upper 20 ft of water.  If they are down at 40 – 50 ft depths, you will probably need  an 8 wt that will cast a fast sinking fly line.

Reel Capacity:  Rockfish do not need much backing.  That said, one could easily intercept a coho or Chinook salmon when fishing for the Blacks. for this reason, I always want at least 100 yds of backing and I prefer 150 yds even when fishing 4 or 5 wt rods for Rockfish.  This is an insurance issue, not a requirement for the target species.

Fly lines:  Black Rockfish can be caught on floating or intermediate sink fly lines when they are feeding in the top 6 or so feet of the water.  These bottom-fish will often feed on the surface and it is really exciting to see them rolling and slashing the surface, sometimes porpoising in their rush to intercept the feed.  That said, my day-in, day-out fly line is a fast sinker.  RIO lines that get the job done include the Striper line, the Outbound, and the new Outbound Shooting Head. Airflo fly lines that offer fast sinking tips include the Depth Finder, Coldwater Sniper and Ridge Striper Line.  The SA Streamer Express is another fast sinking fly line that fishes well.

Leaders:  I have fished leaders as short as 3 ft and as long as 12 ft for Black Rockfish, in tippets that ranged roughly from 10 to 20 pound test.  I believe that one very important issue with leaders for many fish species, Rockfish included, is using a loop knot so that the fly can work and wiggle. Next, there is the matter of adjusting leaders to presentations at different depths.   When striving for deep presentations with heavily weighted flies, a leader of about 6 ft is a good balance of castability and keeping the fly attuned with the sinking rate of the line. When making presentations closer to the surface, with smaller flies, and with unweighted flies, you I feel like I can cast and fish more effectively with a leader in the 8-9  ft range.  I really like a leader as follows using RIO Hard Alloy Nylon: 2 ft 20 lb; 3 ft 16 lb; and 4 ft 12 lb.  This material is tough, stiff, casts easily, and is plenty strong for even the occasional Coho or Chinook one may hook while fishing for Rockfish off Oregon.  This material is thicker than my old favorite, Maxima Ultragreen, but I think it out-performs in terms of durability.  Big Ling Cod have succumbed to these leaders too, and I just like the way the stiff nylon holds its straightness, after much fishing use and many fish caught.  This is a surprising case when thicker and stiffer leader material is preferable to more limber material.  Again, this is personal, so if you have any other leader, it will work.

Salmon Saltwater Fly Tackle:

Rod wt: I like to fish a 7 wt anytime I am pursuing silvers casting to rolling feeders or bucktailing  behind the boat.  If silvers are are deep or if you are targeting Kings in 40 – 50 ft depths, you will probably need  an 8 or 9 wt that will cast a fast sinking fly line with a 350 to 400 gr head.

Reel Capacity:  Salmon can make nice respectable runs, so figure on a 200 yds of backing just in case you hook a big one.

Fly lines:  Bucktailing can be done with any fly line, because the boat’s speed will keep the fly near the surface.  If you want a waking buck tail, you should choose a floating line and keep the fly close in the prop wash.  Fishing a long line with a fast sinking head will only put your fly down a foot or so, and there are times when the foot-deep fly trolled 90 ft behind the transom is the preferred presentation.  Deep water presentations of the cast fly to salmon require one of the sinking lines noted above by RIO, AIRFLO, or SA, preferably in the 300 – 400 gr head weight that achieve a sink rate of 6 or more inches per second.

Leaders:  This is where I am today on the subject of Coho Leaders.  I am tying a 9 ft leader using RIO Fluoroflex tippet as follows: 2 ft + 3 ft + 4 ft.  Leaders for trolling bucktails go from #25 to #20, to #16 lb Fluoroflex.  Leaders for casting to silvers go from #20, to #16, to #12 Fluoroflex.  As always, if you have a stash of Maxima Ultragreen on hand, it will fish and perform with dependability, so don’t feel like my bias to Fluorocarbon should be taken too seriously.  Always use a loop knot to allow the fly to work freely.

Albacore Tuna Fly Tackle:

Rod wt: 12 wt rods are spot-on.  These are very fast, very strong fish.  You may think a 10 wt will be fine but it won’t be.  Get the 12 wt. Your friends who are waiting for you to land your Tuna so they get a turn to cast will thank you too.

Reel Capacity:  300 yds of 30 lb Dacron.  Get Super Braid if you can afford it and load more than 300 yds if it fits.  Never know when you might hook a 45 pounder that could clean you out.

Fly lines:   Remembering that I am a beginner myself, Jad Donaldson tells me that we want a fast sinker like the RIO, AIRFLO, or SA lines mentioned above, with preferred lines being the RIO Leviathan, AIRFLO Big Game Depthfinder.  These lines are fast sinkers, have stronger core strength (over 50 lb) and are longer (in the 150 ft range).  These qualities all combine to make for a perfect package for the stress regime that Tuna can subject your fly line to.

Leaders:  Whoa baby, these fish will stress your leaders.  To date, I have fished two-step leaders of 8-12 ft.  The long leader was a mistake, tied in the frenzy of fishing after having just broken off an Albacore at the fly using #20 Ultragreen.  A Blue Shark hit my line (or my line hit the shark) and the fish with fly was gone.  Instead of removing my old tippet i added another section of #20 Ultragreen making my leader a full 12 ft long.  This was awkward indeed because I proceeded to hook an over 30 lb Tuna that required me to reel the fly line inside the tip in order to bring it close enough to gaff.  Sorry for the ramble.  I have not had time to fish Fluorocarbon leaders for Tuna but that is next on my list.  JadDonaldson regularly fishes Fluorocarbon leaders with tips that range from 15 lb to 25 lb.  So far, my personal successes and failures in the leader department have been using Maxima Ultragreen as follows.  2 ft #30 + 7 ft #20 lb.  Simple.  Now I hope for more days to experiment with fluorocarbon as several of my more-experienced Tuna Fly Fishers say I should.  Just tellin’ it like it is today.

General list of  very good Saltwater Fly Rods:

Echo 3  SW: and Echo Prime,  and; ION

Redington Vapen ; Vapen Red, and Predator

Sage:  Xi3; ONE, and the new Sage MOTIVE

General list of  very good Saltwater Fly Reels:

Nautilus N/V and CCF Reels

Bauer Rogue and CFX

Hatch Finatic 9 or 11 (I really like the capacity of the 11)

SAGE 8000 pro and Sage 6000 Reels

General list of  very good Saltwater Fly Lines:

RIO Leviathan, Striper, and Coldwater Outbound

AIRFLO Depth finder & Depth Finder big Game, Coldwater Sniper, and Ridge Striper

SA Streamer Express

Hope this helps, have fun, get out there!

Jay Nicholas August 2013

This entry was posted in Fly Fishing Gear Review, Oregon Saltwater Fishing. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Tackle Recommendations for Saltwater Fly Fishing

  1. David Jensen says:

    Thanks, Jay. You are always generous with sharing your knowledge.

  2. two dogs says:

    Thanks for the great write -up! We always enjoy reading them.

  3. Oregon Fly Fishing Blog says:

    Really happy to be able to help. There is plenty of room for doing things differently than I may recommend, but I just try to share my latest thinking as I sink deeper and deeper into the Salty Brine. JN

  4. Oregon Fly Fishing Blog says:

    It would be fun to find the time to tell some of the Saltwater Fly fishing stories about flies, tackle, and technique gone wrong. Days when we launched the Dory but regretted it. Days when we could not get fish to take our flies, even though there were plenty of the critters around. Rods sat on, reel handles crushed. And of course, fly lines inhaled by propellers. That is sooooooo much fun. Glad for any entertainment and/or information value you get from my ramblings. JN

  5. I am also new to saltwater fly fishing, but have recently been looking to try it out. Thanks for the tips!

  6. R Lawler says:

    Jay, what recommendations have you now for fluorocarbon leaders while fishing for tuna?

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