saltwater flyfishing part 1

Saltwater fly for beginners

This is an article that hopefully will help a few people either start or improve their saltwater fly fishing a bit. Saltwater fly fishing is a fantastic way to fish. It is a challenge & I find it a most enjoyable way to catch fish. I have been at it for about 10 years now & have never regretted starting to fly fish. In fact these days my fly rod is not only an outfit to use for fun but on many occasions when the fish are fussy a well presented fly can be the only method to produce a fish. As I write this the schools of salmon in my area have been feeding on plankton & I have scored a few on fly where my father who I fish with me regularly has been throwing all manner of lures at them for not a single strike. For those who are considering giving fly fishing a go all I can say is DO IT . For those new at the sport I would like to offer some advice that may help you score a few more fish. I will concentrate mainly on surface fish as I do not spend a lot of time chasing bream & flathead on fly but they are available. Due to the length of this subject I have decided to do it in 2 parts. I will cover locations & a few methods in this section & tackle plus a more detailed look at flies in the second part. This 1st part was completed 29/12/01 & I hope to post the second within a week.

The areas I will cover will be the Pittwater & Broken Bay area & the close offshore grounds. I will not go into any great detail about casting as I think there are many books & videos available written & made by far better fly casters than me. I will make a coupleÊ points though. Being able to throw a long cast accurately will mean catching more fish. Distance comes with practice & experience & as far as I am concerned the place to get that is on the water under normal fishing conditions. By all means get the basics right in the local park but experience on the water is what you need. There is a world of difference between standing on the ground in the local park casting & being able to put a fly out there & doing it in 10 to 15 knots of breeze in a rocking boat. The second point I would like to make is that when you are learning to cast don't let the fact that you cannot throw long casts stop you having a go & catching fish. Use your brains & your boat to get good positions on schools of feeding fish without spooking them & this will make up for lack of distance while you are learning. If you can throw a 40 foot cast you can catch fish! More distance means more shots without moving the boat. Remember the name of the game is have fun & catch a few & there is no substitute for practical experience. I am a fly thrasher not a fly caster & I am definitely not poetry in motion to watch but if I can do it so can anyone. A last point I will make on casting is a lot of publications say not too shoot line into the back cast. I disagree with that 100%. I do it to get line out rapidly & minimize false casting. Learn to do it! I think it was Rod Harrison who said "less swish more fish" & that is a very accurate statement.

Fish Species

There is no shortage of species that can be targeted with fly in this area & there is generally one or more available at any time of the year. I mainly target surface fish but there are plenty of spots about for people after bream , flathead & whiting. The main species I get inside Pittwater are Salmon , Bonito, Tailor, Kingfish, Frigate Mackerel & the odd mackerel tuna. On the offshore scene you get all the species I have mentioned plus to that you can add Striped Tuna. Further off shore there are Dolphin Fish , Yellowfin Tuna & Marlin for the more experienced anglers. As you can see there is a few to choose from so a bit of searching generally turns up a fish or two. I even caught a hairtail off Scotland Island early one morning!


I find the best time to fly fish this area is generally late summer on into autumn ( March through May) for a couple of reasons. The first being that many of the list above are available during that time & secondly is that the weather is generally kinder to fly fisherman that time of year . The weather patterns are settled & early of a morning there is a land breeze from the North West which dies off around 8.00 am & then there is little wind until the afternoon which makes for easier casting. Still you can't have it your own way all the time so we fish all year & curse the afternoon North Easter in summer & the westerly in winter. Salmon & Tailor are around pretty well all year thicker in some months than others. Bonito & kingfish usually start late September & finish in May depending on water temp. Frigate mackerel normally show in February & are about till May. Mackerel Tuna can vary a bit & tend to be about late winter through spring with late August through to October being about the best. Striped tuna generally start showing in September & these are normally the large fish between 4 & 6 kilos (excellent sport) they are present through summer & on into April but the size generally gets smaller after Xmas. As you can see there is generally a few about & what is available when varies with the water temp offshore a bit but a little effort will turn up something.


There are some areas that work better than others around this neck of the woods but the fish can turn up just about any where so keep your eyes peeled for surface activity & working birds. Some of the better areas are around Scotland Island mainly for Kingfish but a few salmon as well. The area between Longnose PointÊ & Soldiers Point on the western shore are good for Kingfish & tailor mainly but Salmon & Bonito often are about as well. The same fish can be found in at Coasters Retreat as well. On the eastern shore the area around the entrance to Careel Bay has mainly kingfish & tailor with a few bonito. around West Head especially on a run up tide for Kings ,Salmon & Tailor. The southern shore between West Head & Flint & Steel reef can fish well for salmon & tailor. The southern & eastern sides of Lion Island for Salmon, Kings & tailor. As far as Barrenjoey goesÊ the fish can be anywhere around it either on the inshore or offshore side of it. These are the main areas I look for activity inshore but once you are offshore looking for Striped & Mackerel tuna they can show up anywhere so just keep the eyes on the job. This should provide a start anyhow.

General Information

One of the most common reasons people miss out on catching fish on fly when fishing this area is by using flies that are too large. Bonito & Tailor are not too fussy on the size fly they strike but all the other species can be very fussy. An old trout fishing saying is " match the hatch" & while this applies to imitating the insects trout are feeding on this saying has a lot of truth in fly fishing around the Broken bay area. The main baitfish are small white bait & a fish we call glassies. There some small white & blue pilchards at times. All the baitfish I have mentioned are SMALL. When I say small I am talking from 4 or 5 mm in length & the same diameter as a toothpick up to 15mm long. Sometimes the fish especially in Broken bay itself & offshore are feeding on plankton which can comprise many different things. plankton feeding fish are very , very difficult to catch & trust me they will cause you are sore casting arm for very few if any strikes. The majority of the time I am using small baitfish imitations on hooks size no. 1 or less & at the moment I am using some home made flies on no. 8 hooks. Remember fussy fish will often take a fly that is smaller than what they are feeding on but rarely will they take one that is larger. A problem that arises from using such small hooks is keeping the fish on you need to tread lightly with fish hooked on tiny hooks. I use both commercial flies plus a few home made flies & will post pictures of them plus a bit more info on flies in Part 2.

Another important aspect of fly fishing this area is to have a good look at schools of fish feeding as you approach them. You can generally tell the species of fish by the way they are feeding & make a judgment on the size of the baitfish they are working. Knowing this can help select the right size & type of fly for the job. The schools of fish inside are generally a bit smaller than offshore & a bit fussier so it pays to have a look at them before charging in. Generally the larger the baitfish the more splashing you will see on the surface as the fish are chasing & grabbing individual baitfish. When the fish are on tiny bait you will often see very small splashes & a lot of the time you will see individual fish slurping bait off the surface over a wide area. Bonito & Tailor are generally easy to spot as they chop at baitfish there is a lot of disturbance on the water & plenty of birds overhead looking for scraps. Get a baitfish imitation in there & you will be hooked up in no time. Salmon ,Kings & frigate mackerel are a different ball game. When they fish are on the surface feeding especially when they are on tiny bait they can be difficult to spot particularly when in small schools. A lot of the time there will be few birds around the schools if any. When they are feeding like this they swallow the tiny bait whole leaving no scraps at all for the birds. Salmon & Kings when on small bait or plankton will slurp bait off the top very gently & often resemble a mullet sucking a bit of bread berley from the surface. They are tough to catch when feeding like this & often only the smallest flies will draw a strike. Frigate mackerel can be tough to catch inside as the most common way I see them feeding is either single fish or very small groups patrolling along the shoreline often only visible from the little bow wave their head pushes up as they swim along just under the surface. Tiny flies & aim well ahead of them works OK & they will test your accuracy. Offshore we have Striped tuna & they can be a tough target. When Striped tuna are feeding on small bait orÊ you will see them scooting across the surface quickly generally a group of fish side by side with their mouths open. The speed they are traveling just forces the bait down. When they are on plankton they tend to feed slowly in a circular pattern & barely ripple the surface. When they are on large bait you see a lot of individual splashes & generally they feed into the wind as well. The same patterns apply to mackerel tuna. Getting to know the different types of fish & the way they feed will take time to learn butÊ is a very important aspect to learn & will boost the amount of fish you hook-up.

Positioning the boat in the right spot for a cast is another very important thing to do. At first a lot of people just charge up to a school & toss a fly right in the centre of the school & catch nothing. Sure some days this method will work fine when the fish are not spooky & really going hard at the bait. These days are not common & fish quietly feeding on small schools of bait inshore are very easy to spook. Off shore it is not so much of a problem but they can still be spooked with the wrong approach. I treat all schools as spooky fish until they react otherwise. First up you need to know how far you can throw accurately as when you start pushing hard for distance things go wrong if you are new at it. Know your range & stick to that distance where you have control & accuracy. I like to hold back a bit & watch the fish to see whether they are feeding in one spot or not & if they are feeding on the move are they feeding in one particular direction or feeding in a circular pattern. When I have worked a pattern out I move into a position ahead of the school & leave my motor in neutral. I don't think an idling engine spooks fish some would disagree however. Try not to let the shadow of the boat pass through the school as this can put them down also. Large shadows mean bigger predators to most fish. If possible I like to cast across the wind rather than have the wind behind or in front of me. The last points to remember are that you are better working the edges of a stationary school & you MUST cast ahead of moving schools. With fish like Striped tuna especially that move fast I like to cast around 20 meters in front of the fish that are visible on the surface. It sounds a lot but it isn't & some days I go even further ahead. You need your fly in front of the fish for a strike they cannot see behind themselves & don't look there when they are feeding. I feel the edges of a stationary school always fish better as if the fly is in the middle often there is so much splashing & activity going on the fish just do not see the fly, also a fly line hitting the surface can spook the fish if it lands hard or if it is a brightly coloured floating line, & slapping the line down hard is common when you are learning to cast. I would be rich if I had a dollar for every time I have done it & I still do it at times. All this sounds a bit complicated when you read it but in practice it doesn't take long & you will quickly start to do it without thinking. Done properly a well positioned boat can make up for a lack of casting distance whether it be through lack of experience at casting or poor weather conditions.

Retrieves & Striking

This is a real talking point with a lot of fly fisherman & one that can be debated all day. I don't think there is any BEST retrieve & I think the speed & type of retrieve needs to be varied day to day to get results. As a general rule I have found the water conditions govern the speed a bit & on glassy calm days I use a fast retrieve & on choppy windy days I go a bit slower. By a fast one I mean making a cast then holding the fly rod between my legs & stripping the fly back with both hands as fast as I can. A medium to me is casting then holding the rod in my right hand & stripping about 2 feet (60 cm) of line back about every second or so & a slow one is the same but only taking about 15 cm back in per strip. You need to experiment but generally the larger the fly the quicker I go. Lately on salmon using tiny flies I have been crawling the fly around the schools & going well. These days around this area there are generally a few others working with fly so it pays to keep an eye on the speed they are using & copy it if they are hooking up or doing it differently if they are not. Striking is simple I don't go with whipping the rod up & hammering the hook in. As far as I am concerned your hooks should be razor sharp before your fly hits the water & if it isn't the soft tip of a fly rod will not help you much as far as setting the hook goes. When I get a strike I just raise the rod a bit to keep the line as tight as possible & that is about it.


It goes without saying that any tackle should be in top condition. Fly tackle is easy to maintain & the main points to remember are that clean fly lines cast better than dirty ones. I clean my line by rinsing it in luke warm soapy water then give it a coating of Armor All. There are proper cleaners & fly line dressings on the market but I am happy with this method. Hooks need to be sharp & the best time to do this is before you leave rather than try to do it out on the water. Leaders need to be checked for wear & tear as well. A big thing to check for both at home & during fishing when you are learning to cast is wind knots. Those horrible little knots that form during a lousy cast. They are a little granny knot & when the pressure is put on a hooked fish will cut your leader off instantly. look at your leader often for these knots it only takes a second & can save you blowing a good fish. I like to have a rod ready at all times when fly fishing this area & I mean from the time I leave the ramp. I use Bayview Ramp at Rowland Reserve & have often encountered Tailor & Bonito plus the odd school of Salmon before I have even got to the Royal Motor Yacht Club. Better to have your fly rod ready than to be frantically trying to get a rod out of storage & work some line out while the fish are on the go. I use a couple of mats like you use in car floors & lay one on my deck then coil some line on this then place another mat on that to stop the line blowing around while traveling. The rod is in a holder on the centre console of my boat. Using this method I can get a cast off in seconds & has proven worthwhile many times.

Fly Fishing for beginners


For most of the fishing done inside Pittwater itself an 8 weight outfit is more than ample but if you will be spending a fair bit of time offshore chasing the tunas as well I would suggest a 10 weight outfit. I use a 10 weight Loomis rod with a Scientific Anglers System 2 10/11 reel & I am very happy with it. When starting out you need quality at a reasonable price. There is no point spending a thousand bucks or more on an outfit to find that fly fishing is not for you. These days there are plenty of outfits that offer value for money. When I was doing this page & needed information on the tackle that is available Scott Mitchell from the Alpine Angler Store in Cooma, New South Wales was kind enough to send me a catalogue & I have picked a few rods & reels from it which I think are suitable but I recommend highly looking at the fly fishing combos they have assembled. The " Entry Saltwater Combo" looks ideal & offers great value for money at the time this was published the cost was $399 & it consists of:

  • Innovator Distance 9ft 8/9 rod
  • SA Concept 7/9 LA reel
  • SA Companion WF9 line
  • Backing & leader5 year unconditional warranty

This would be a very suitable outfit to start saltwater fly fishing with. I think the whole Innovator range offers quality at a reasonable price. There are a lot of other rods & reels available & the range is much to large to cover here. It all depends on how much you are willing to spend. The Alpine Angler has a great mail order service & are very helpful & I would recommend going to the site

Other reels suitable are Scientific Anglers System 2 series, Fenwick River Runners & the new Felty Fly Reel. All are suitable for this type of fishing. lines that would also be OK are SA clear wet tip in WF8-10 or the Striper taper intermediate in same weight. The best advice I can give on tackle is take a look at what is available & find an outfit to suit your price range. Fly tackle like in all tackle is a "you get what you pay for deal" . Poor quality rods & lines especially will lead to casting problems & lack of distance trust me I know I've been there!


The type of flies I normally use are small baitfish imitations. Some I tie myself others are commercially available. Here is list of patterns that are available commercially & all will catch fish in this area. If your local shop hasn't got them they are available at The Alpine Angler. Eye Fly mini Candy Size 4 , Clear surf candy size 2, Green & clear surf candies in size 1/0 , Blue Clouser Minnow size 2 , Chartreuse Clouser Minnow size 2 , White bait size 4 , Lefty Deceiver Blue in 1/0 & 2. I have been using Felties Flies in different patterns for a number of years & they are very successful. I make some of my own little baitfish flies similar to Surf candies in a variety of colours & sizes from Size 2 down to tiny ones on No.8 hooks. Tying your own is easy to do & it is fun to score fish on flies you have made yourself. I will post a couple pics of different flies at the bottom of this page as an example.


Not much else I can offer info wise on fly fishing except it is a great sport. The main things are get some good tackle, learn to cast properly the way to go is get an experienced caster to help it will save a lot of frustration. Under the fly pictures on this page are links to information that may help. Good luck & happy swishing.

salterwater flyfishing flyfishing fly tying bonefish