Getting Started In  Salt water Fly-fishing:


                                        By:  Capt. Reggie Roddenberry


The History: 

     I’ve been at this fly-fishing business a long time now…started when I was just a lad.  Let’s see – that was back in 1955 (I was born in 1948).  My father was a great tutor.  It seems I have fished the fresh water habitats from Maine to California, spending lots of time around Utah, a couple of years in New Mexico, and some time in Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, as well as Washington (the state).      

     Now I’m here in Florida (since 1971), pestering the salt water occasionally, with celebrated annual fresh water trips to north Georgia for my beloved mountain trout.  Sometimes I still attack the fresh water lakes and rivers in pursuit of bream and bass.  Oh, I’ve been back out to the east and west coasts a couple of times, but it hurts too much to stay there for too long.  So many memories of mother and father, I think. 

     Back in the 1980’s, we started a fly fishing club here in Tallahassee centered at the old Outdoor Shop, under the guidance of a big man by the name of David Olsen.  David was a Florida certified teacher who didn’t want to teach anything but what was related to fly-fishing.  You have got to love a guy like that, eh?  Then, along came a gentleman by the name of Tom Broderidge, who changed the way I will always look at fly-fishing.  He brought with him the talents of not only advanced fly-casting, and fly-fishing, but the mastery of fly-tying!  Oh my God, did the fly bug bite me hard. 

      I bought more stuff for fly-tying than my wife would allow, and then some.  Lord, how I stayed in trouble with that woman.  Some friend would call up the house and ask, “Where is Reggie”?  She would say, “Oh, probably down at the Outdoor Shop in the fishing department, again”.  Early on, I was convinced that my fat, stubby fingers would never be able to tie a fly.  Then, through Tom’s patient teachings, I discovered that those fingers could tie some flies – just big ones, at first.  Later on, dry flies down to size 24! 

     Back then I was concentrated about getting back into the freshwater angle of fly fishing, especially up in the mountains after trout.  It took quite a bit of convincing from the likes of David, Tom, and some members of the fly club before I realized that I needed to be a “well rounded” fly fisherman (that had nothing to do with my plump body proportions).  This well-rounded atmosphere was a saltwater undertaking of the nth degree. 





     Even in the early days of the Fly Fishing Club, most members just wanted to fly fish in the salt water.  I was absolutely overwhelmed with opportunities to do just that.  Why fight it?  As I came to understand the saltwater environment, I realized that the fishing required specialized equipment.  This harsher climate of brine produced species of fish that fought longer and harder than most of those I had experienced before.  And, the equipment was expensive, or, at least, some of it was – at first (because I did not know any better). 

     Let me say this about expensive equipment. 

     Read my lips:  If you go out and buy cheap gear, it will turn on you like a rabid dog!  There is a big difference between “cheap” gear and “inexpensive” gear. 

     Read my lips:  A sale on good quality accessories can save you lots of money = inexpensive. 

      Read my lips:  Buy great quality, second-hand equipment, in good condition, from reliable sources, and save a bundle of cash = inexpensive! 

     Then, there are the times when you just say to yourself:  “I want this item, I don’t care what the cost, I’m going to buy it …because it is a lifetime investment”!  That is my point – good quality equipment is a lifetime investment! 


The Basic Equipment: 

     So you want to fly fish in the salt water, eh?  Good, let’s get started.  How much money are you willing to expend on the most necessary gear to get you started?  Base price to get started will be around $350.00+ for the needed gear and that scares most people from either getting into fly-fishing or into buying cheap crap.  Learn this early on – you cannot afford to get everything right away (unless you are rich or foolish)!  Figure out what you will buy first, then add on over time until the assembly is complete.  Here are the basic tools of the trade that will get you started: 

      #1.  An inexpensive quality fly rod ($150.00-250.00) in 9-foot, 2-4 piece sections (3 & 4-piece sections are called “travel rods”); an eight or nine-weight rod, made of materials other than straight fiberglass (usually materials are a combination of several materials – boron, etc.); a cork handle in “Full-Wells” style; a reel seat made from one of the metal products; two large “stripping” eye guides (the ones closest to the reel at the handle), and, at least, six to seven, large ceramic–like “snake eyes”; and, the tip eye in a large diameter. 

     The rod should be stiff at the butt section through the mid-section, and limber up slightly towards the tip-top.  Also, make sure the rod has a “fighting butt” section (an extension on the “butt” end of the rod that you can place on your hip, or in your gut, while fighting a big fish).  It is better to expend more money on the fly rod than on just about any other accessories, like reels, flies, or leader tippets (notice I didn’t include fly lines)!

     Why did I pick an 8 or 9-weight rod?  Because it is easy to cast the weight-forward lines and bulky flies you need to fish in the salt water with for various inshore species of fish!  The 6-7 weight rods are too light, and the 10+-weight rods are much too heavy duty for beginners!    

     #2.  A moderately priced fly reel ($100.00+) that is made of aluminum or stronger materials; should hold, at least, 200-yards of #30 Dacron backing, and the matching fly line (usually about 90-feet) to the weight of the rod; later on you will want to buy an extra spool (or two) for the reel because you will eventually own, at least, two-three types of fly line.  Basically, the reel is just a storage area for line, but it should have a large capacity and a decent drag system!   

     #3.  Excellent quality fly lines ($55-65.00) must be purchased!  You cannot save much money here on quality – save it on some other stuff.  When just starting out, I advocate buying a floating fly line in a highly visible color (orange, yellow, etc.) for your first fly line, if you can find it.  Remember what I said about that “rabid dog” – here it is!  If you buy cheap, cheesy line – you get what you paid for and it will self-destruct within a few months!  You must learn to take care of your expensive fly line - that means you wash off the salt in fresh water and clean the line after every trip and the line will stay good for many, many years.            

     #4.  Leader tippet and shock leader materials ($3.50-6.00) are one of the least expensive parts of fly-fishing, but don’t use just anything.  Find a good company or two you like (or someone you trust recommends) and stay with the product.  Learn to tie your own leaders and you will save mega bucks over the years.  The leaders will wear out first, sometimes before the chewed up flies!  The shock leader materials (usually in 20-40# test) must be made of fluorocarbon – period, don’t skip this one, ever!!! 

     #5.  Flies.  Let me tell you about five or six to get you started, but there are plenty more to try when you are ready. 

A.     Clouser Deep Minnow ($2.95) – Size 4 or 6, long shank 2X or 3X hook.  This guy is tied with different colored buck-tail materials (other similar materials can be substituted) two colors on top (called an over wing & under wing) and underneath the hook shank (called a beard wing); the hook shank itself is wrapped in a colored chenille (or other body materials); Bead Chain eyes or Lead Eyes are tied in at the head of the fly (near the hook eye). Some say the fly looks like a minnow, some say a shrimp, some say a crab; the fish eat it without abandon! 

B.     Deceiver Minnow ($3.95)– Size 2, 1/0-2/0, extra-long shank 3X or 4X hook.  Depending on how much material is tied on the fly - it can be “bulked up” to look like a Menhaden, Pinfish, Sardine, or Mullet; slimmed down to imitate a Glass minnow; Chub minnow, or other small looking bait fish.  Usually, tied with a body wrap along the shank of the hook (the fly tier can weight the fly by wrapping small diameter lead around the hook shank before the material goes on); two over wing materials and one under wing material goes on above the top of the hook shank; a small red or orange piece of material is wrapped under the throat to show gills; the head finished off with a hard glue and eyes painted or affixed on both sides of the head.  Killer pattern!   

C.     Seaducer ($3.95)– Size 1/0 or 2/0, extra-long shank 3X or 4X hook.  Body material is wrapped around the hook shank; four feathers of color (red, yellow, white, grizzly, or chartreuse), two on each side, are placed above the hook shank in the area near where the point of the hook is, and these are tied in; four feathers of color (red/yellow or white/chartreuse, etc.) are paired up & tied in front of the point where the tail feathers were tied, and brought forward to the hook eye and tied off.  It was this fly that put me in Florida Sportsman, years ago!  Don’t leave home without them! 

D.     Shrimp ($2.95)– Size 4, 6, 1/0, long shank 2X hook.  Made of various body materials that are placed on the hook shank; a carapace (or shell) is tied over the top of the hook shank and the materials are fanned out at the eye of the hook to look like a tail.  Colors can be any shades found in body wrapping materials that match the natural appearance of real shrimp.  Something like the Gulp, eh! 

E.      Deer-hair Finger Mullet ($5.95), Size 2, 4, or 6, short shank 1X or 2X hook.  Made from different colors of deer hair; wrapped on the body of the hook shank a special way; tied off with a short piece of red colored material at the throat to mimic gills; trimmed down to the bullet shape of a small mullet.  Shallow water dynamite pattern!      

      #6.  Knots (free).  You must learn to tie some fishing knots!  I strongly suggest you purchase a “knot” book or a video and practice, practice, practice.  Here are a few knots that have served me well through the years.  I don’t always use some of these myself on a regular basis! 

A.     Clinch Knot.  Leader tippet to fly!

B.     Surgeon’s Knot.  Leader to leader!  Leader to Shock leader!

C.     Barrel Knot.  Leader to leader!  Leader to Shock leader!

D.     Surgeon’s Loop.  Leader to Fly Line!  Leader to leader! 

E.      Perfection Loop.  Leader tippet to fly!

F.      Uniknot.  Leader to leader!  Leader to fly! 

G.     Bimini Twist Knot.  Leader to Fly Line!  Leader to leader! 

H.     Surgeon’s Loop.  Leader to leader!  Leader to Shock leader! 

I.        Haywire Twist Knot.  Hard Wire leader to fly! 

J.       Figure 8 Knot.  Flexible Wire leader to fly!

K.    Albright’s Special Knot.  Wire leader to mono leader!


     There are some extra things in the form of fly-fishing tools you might consider, which can increase the base cost a little:  Si, muy es necessario’!  Comprende’, compadres?   

1.      Rod & Reel combination hard carrying case ($30+).  This will save your wise investment from bangs and dents, never mind breakages!

2.      Leader Wallets ($10).  Keeps your leaders well organized and out of the sunlight’s damaging rays! 

3.      Curved Forceps  - Hemostats ($5).  Best hook removal devices in the business – they clip anywhere on your shirt or shorts (if you guys are doing the Robert Redford look) - ladies, please, no GAFF stuff! 

4.      Clippers – on a long necklace ($4).  Around your neck and they are handy to cut or clip line, etc.! 

5.      Leader Straightener ($4).  There will be plenty of times when you must straighten out a kinked up leader – this is the tool! 

6.      Gear Keeper Retractor ($8).  Neat little clip-on devices that can hold some accessories (you pull them out, then they retract back in)! 

7.      Fly Floatant ($5).  Some of the flies that you use must be treated occasionally with this solution to keep them on top of the water! 

8.      Fly Line Cleaner ($5.50).  This is a special line cleaner/treatment formula that must be used after every trip. 

9.      Stripping Basket ($30+).  You do not want the fly line tangled up around your feet in the boat (or around your waist while wade fishing) – it buckles around your waist and you strip the excess fly line into it!

10.  Large Fly Box ($12).  Keeps the flies organized and dry – ready for instant use! 

11.  Fly Vest or Pack ($25+).  For keeping the entire accessory fishing gear in when you go aboard a boat or are out in the water wade fishing!   


     I hope that this article has been helpful in steering you towards a consideration of fly-fishing the salt water.  There is so much to learn about all aspects of fly-fishing.  But, here in the salt water, these fish can give you a spanking if you are not prepared.  You can affordably get into fly-fishing and it will provide a challenge to your angling skills.

     The point in the history of the fly-fishing I presented to you initially was to warn you do not give up your conventional fishing equipment.  In fact, please consider fly-fishing as an adjunct to other fishing methods.  However, some of us consider fly-fishing the ultimate challenge when all else have been tried! 

     When I grow tired of casting conventional gear, I go for my fly rods!  Why not you?